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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Smithsonian Journeys offer multiple trips of a lifetime

The itinerary is dazzling enough to shred the combined bucket lists of armies of audacious dreamers.

The scholarly expertise turns all the lights out on any night at the museum.

And when you consider what you’re getting for what you’re paying -- “Come on down!” -- the price is right.

The world’s most spectacular tour on-, over- and ‘round the world proves Hollywood dream weavers are no match in coining blockbuster ideas when it comes to a museum that’s famous for being free.

Yes, the solid and ever-stable Smithsonian Museum that rings the Mall at our nation’s capital is marking its 10th year of getting up and roving about the globe.

And it is again doing it in style.

“I’d just lost my husband of 30 years and really needed a trip, something special,” says Dr. Paulene Popek, 65, and an executive director of the Center for Reflective Parenting in Los Angeles. “I was missing him so much I felt like I needed to treat myself. I needed a trip of a lifetime.”

What she got was the equivalent to 14 trips of 14 lifetime, all in 22 days crowded with unrivaled splendor and scholarship. 

Smithsonian Journeys (www.smithsonianjourneys.org) is over the next year offering three Around the World charters -- next available Nov. 1-22. Museum maestros will shepherd 78 adventurers of a cerebral bent to Machu Picchu, Easter Island, the Serengeti, the Taj Mahal and 10 other UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage sites in a glamourous around-the-world tour the likes of which would be inconceivable to ballyhooed (and ill-fated) circumnavigators like Ferdinand Magellan.

The entire trip will be conducted aboard private jet -- and it’s a doozy.

“It’s a Boeing 757 that seats more than 200, but for us is configured for just 78 with all business class cradle seats,” says Amy Kotkin, director of Smithsonian Journeys. “We have our own pilots, our own chef and our own staff that will know what you want to drink as soon as they recognize your face.”

Despite the space, on-board snoozing is discouraged; class will be in session. Some of the world’s top experts will join various legs of the trip to lecture about upcoming sites.

If parts of that sound both physically and intellectually strenuous, relax. All the flights are during the day and none lasts longer than seven hours.

“We’re on the ground for about two days at each site,” Kotkin says. “At night we stay at very luxurious accommodations in spectacular settings.”

The trip originates in Orlando where guests will stay enjoy an introductory dinner and accommodations at The Ritz Carlton. Other lodging includes Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, India, and the Palais Jamai Fes in Fez Morocco.

Popek says she was treated like royalty the entire trip, once by royalty herself. It was at a sumptuous dinner at Bhutan when Her Majesty, Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, made time to engage in pleasantries with each guest.

“She was so sweet and gracious,” she says. “She made it a point to visit with each of us and and personally thank us for coming to Bhutan. Every day seemed to bring another once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Popek says a day doesn’t go by when she doesn’t recall her March 2009 trip. She says she frequently slips into a quiet reverie about all she experienced.

“You know you’re going to be impressed by Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and Easter Island, but exposure to some of these tribal cultures in places like New Guinea gives you a profound sense of humility that never leaves you. That trip changed my life in so many varied and wonderful ways.”

Okay, so what do we bid? How much for the private jet, 22 days and nights at 14 of the most exotic and historic sites around planet Earth?

If you bid $62,950, you win! If you can afford $62,950, congratulations, ($71,100 single occupancy) you really win!

An outlandish extravagance? Perhaps not.

A year’s tuition at Harvard is now $50,724. Will that provide a more enduring education? A more indelible and unique life experience?

Or for a more egalitarian perspective, consider another once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza only the lucky few ever realize: Winning the double showcase on “The Price is Right!”

Example: On March 7, a contestant came within $72 of nailing her showcase and thus became a rare double showcase winner. Prizes included a Honda Accord EX Sedan; six nights in Vancouver; six nights in Tonga; a sailboat, solar cabana and 5-piece outdoor dining set.

Total value actual retail price: $77,392.

The Smithsonian trip won’t include that snazzy solar cabana, but are the absorbed intangibles worth so much more?

“Depending on their travel aspirations, many people consider this a real bargain,” says Kotkin. “These are iconic destinations so many yearn to visit. Here they’re all together in one package. And there’s always going to be a huge romance with circling the globe.”

Then there’s this: Inclusion might be the last and least hassle-laden way to travel internationally ever again.

All the tedious logistics of going from continent-to-continent are trimmed away in a worry-free journey that is entirely self-contained. The plane has its own staff, its own security and you have your own travel space for the trip’s entirety.

Borders melt and the danger of things like exotic souvenirs being confiscated by shady customs agents is non-existent.

“Let’s put it this way,” Kotkin says, “it’s the only time in their lives when many of our passengers will ever fly overseas in a plane with overhead bins that are full of masks, shields and spears.”

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